BY SANDRA RIANO
If your Halloween costume is based off of an ethnicity or culture then you may be perpetuating negative stigmas and ideals through a seemingly fun Halloween costume without even realizing it. Cultures often appropriated for Halloween are the Native American cultures, Mexican cultures and many of the different Asian cultures. It’s not necessarily the individual’s fault that costume producers create generic and insensitive costumes like Spirit Halloween’s “Pocahottie” and “Making Reservations” women’s costumes based off Native American culture. A community that has had to deal with sexual violence throughout their history should not be depicted through racist and oversexualized costumes. We as a society have to reject these cheap and offensive costumes and recognize the damage they do to many minority groups.
A quick internet search for “Racist Halloween Costumes” will bring up some very offensive attempts at humor. One example would be a group of girls in brownface, wearing ponchos, moustaches, sombreros and signs that say “green card?”. This attempt to depict Mexicans not only strengthens the racist title of “illegal” that many Americans apply to Mexicans but desensitizes people to this type of hate speech. The holiday of “Dia de Los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) in Mexico is meant to honor deceased relatives, has no relation to the Halloween that is celebrated now and contrary to popular belief is not “Mexican Halloween”. The traditional “Sugar Skulls” associated with Day of the Dead should not be used as a face painting idea because it’s not meant to be used in that context and mocks an important spiritual holiday.
So where is the line between appropriation and appreciation? Cultural appropriation is when people outside of a culture feel privileged to take parts of another culture and misrepresent the original meaning behind the clothing or custom. Another form of appropriation is only focusing on the “fun” and “trendy” aspects of a culture while deliberately ignoring the hardships and traumas that the community may endure. Cultural appreciation must include thorough knowledge of the culture and could include wearing traditional clothing but should not only be practiced on Halloween.
Cultural appropriation can extend to other marginalized groups like the transgender community. A popular costume this year is forecasted to be a Caitlyn Jenner outfit for men. The transgender community is already misunderstood so this costume would reinforce the stereotype that transgender just means crossdressing.
Aside from appropriation there are costumes that are just plain racist. The practice of using paint to portray African Americans, or blackface, in costumes relates back to the 19th Century. The popular 2014 Halloween costume “Ray and Janay Rice” which often was a white male in blackface, a Baltimore Raven’s football jersey and dragging a doll or accompanied by a woman in blackface and fake bruises. This costume depicts domestic violence and also contributes to the harmful stereotype of African American men abusing women. As racist and disrespectful as this costume was, there are other examples that are just as ignorant.
People use other cultures for Halloween and only have to be in that persona for one day while members of the community have to live their lives in the stereotypes that the costume reinforces. The “We’re a Culture, not a Costume” campaign slogan is “You wear the costume for one night, we wear the stigma for life.”
If the name of the costume in the store uses the words “tribal”, “ethnic” “exotic” or “urban” it’s probably culturally insensitive. Culture based costumes and generic clothing reduce important aspects of cultures to fashion statements. “Tribal” print clothing, Native American headdresses and the improper use of the bindi are examples of misused cultural symbols that the fashion industry benefits from because they are considered “trendy”.
America has a history of systematically oppressing and marginalizing minority groups and must realize the implications that seemingly innocent costumes have upon those communities. Think twice about what problematic message your costume might exude and who that may affect this Halloween.